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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                           39
and there heavy drops of moisture fell on the snow with
a light patter. The spring! This was the first time it had
announced its coming so emphatically and resolutely.
Alexei decided to eat the miserable remnants of the
tinned meat—a few shreds of meat coated with savoury
fat—in the morning, for he felt that if he did not do so
he would not have the strength to rise. He cleaned the
tin out thoroughly with his forefinger, cutting his hand
here and there on its jagged edges, but it seemed to him
that there were still some scraps of fat left. He filled the
tin with snow, scraped away the grey ashes from the
dying fire and placed the tin on the glowing embers.
Later he sipped the hot water with the slightly meaty
flavour with the utmost relish. When he finished he slipped
the tin into his pocket, meaning to use it for making tea.
To drink hot tea! This was a pleasant discovery, and it
cheered him somewhat when he proceeded on his way
again.
But here a great disappointment awaited him. The
blizzard had completely obliterated the road, barring it
with sloping, conical snow-drifts. Alexei's eyes smarted
from the monotonous, bluish glare. His feet sank into the
fluffy, as yet unsettled snow and he could pull them out
only with great difficulty. His sticks were of little service
to him, for they, too, sank deep into the snow.
By midday, when the shadows under the trees grew
black and the sun looked over the tree tops into the
forest cutting, Alexei had covered only about fifteen
hundred paces, and he was so weary that every new step
cost him a tremendous effort of will. He felt giddy. The
ground slipped from under his feet. Every now and
again he fell, lay motionless for an instant on top of a
snow-drift, pressing his forehead to the crisp snow, and
then got up and walked another few paces. He felt an
irresistible inclination to sleep, to lie down and forget
everything, not moving a single muscle. Come what may.
He halted, stood benumbed, swaying from side to side,
and then, biting his lips until they hurt, he pulled himself
together and walked a few paces, barely able to drag his
feet along.
At last he felt that he could go on no longer, that no
power on earth could shift him from the spot, that if he